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Cannes Heat

Christopher Fowler

Everyone has horror stories about Cannes during the Film Festival: the audacious thievery, the staggering cost of a salad, the rubbernecking crowds, the sheer effrontery of hotel staff -- not to mention you run the risk of being headlocked by a doorman.

There are good reasons why Cannes is twin-towned with Beverly Hills; both cities exist more in the imagination than the real world, both are filled with wealthy stars living in the hills under cyanic skies, both host high-profile movie events, and both have police forces that adopt uncompromising attitudes to outsiders. The Mayor of Cannes once infamously bussed the homeless out of town for the duration of the film festival. Cannes is also like a film set; a façade of elegance propped up by a disgruntled, stressed-out workforce.

But that's where the comparison ends. The glamour of the Cannes Film Festival is mitigated by the seedy surreality of its surrounding market, a freewheeling nightmare for even the hardiest buyers and sellers — any takers for Sharkman: The Movie? The market cinemas are old and cramped, the chances of finding a cinematic gem relatively rare, and bidding frenzies transform even the sweetest producers into werewolves. Somehow, despite all efforts at quality control, one always ends up seeing the festival's very worst film in an auditorium that smells of sex and snackfood, and even directors are sometimes unable to gain admittance to their own movies. I thought LA doormen were tough until I saw French fans held in headlocks while Arnie made his entrance.

Everyone has horror stories about Cannes, the audacious thievery, the staggering cost of a salad, the rubbernecking crowds, the sheer effrontery of hotel staff. And yet there are sublime, bleary memories; the Leningrad Cowboys playing rockabilly with the Red Army, the Pythons holding four-in-the-morning sidewalk salons, Madonna and Tina Turner hitting the dancefloor as excited as schoolgirls. Everyone recalls specific events; the night the power failed and all Cannes was candlelit, the tear-gas attack on the British bar, the evening guests that were stranded aboard a ship full of porn stars. There's a rough, reckless edge to the late nights, a frisson of danger that mitigates the glitz to prick the pomposity of the proceedings.

By creating a division between the awards ceremonies and the marketplace, the Cannes Film Festival is free to concentrate on the artistry of film, even if that means grappling with political issues. In May 1968, while protesting students were being baton-charged along La Croisette, the directors invited to Cannes squabbled about solidarity, yanking the curtains shut during a screening of Carlos Saura's Peppermint Frappe as the jury members resigned. To show their solidarity, well-meaning film-makers raised the same flags all the young intellectuals in communist countries were trying to tear down. It's interesting to note that the year's most important film, Kubrick's emotionally detached 2001: A Space Odyssey, came from America and did not voice discontent with the ruling class.

As if to silence criticism that Cannes preaches elitism to the converted, this year's head of jury, Quentin Tarantino, brings a lowbrow, visceral approach to film that has always been matched by his magpie appropriation of world cinema. Although he is regarded with faint distaste by snooty festival regulars for failing to draw on real life in his films, European cinema is, like it or not, becoming more commercial, and Cannes must adapt to accommodate it.

In France, the cultural imperative keeps French-language films rolling from the production line, but halts their spread in English speaking territories — a triumph for art over profit, perhaps, but a reduction in visibility that keeps some of the world's most enjoyable films from receiving international attention. Further confusion arises because not all European films are "art" films; many, like Sueurs and Le Boulet are big budget actioners that just happen to be in another language. Cannes isn't interested and Hollywood senses rivalry, so they remain marooned in domestic cinemas.

As Hollywood trawls ever deeper through old comic books for franchises, France and Belgium have finally realised that they are sitting on goldmines. The tradition of bande-dessinees or BDs (graphic novels), is long and illustrious. Exercises in artistic elegance, they're read by all age groups, so this year we have innovative big budget film versions of Immortel and Blueberry, and there are plenty more at storyboard stage. Not that the baggy-eyed film buyers in rumpled suits searching for tables on the Carlton terrace will get much of a look in; most such mainstream epics are beyond their budgets.

Like Berlin, Geneva, Venice or even Sicily's Taormina, Cannes is a trade show town; visit it in a different month and you'll find yourself surrounded by dentists or antique dealers. Despite this cosmopolitanism, Cannes manages to prove exasperating and impenetrable to the casual visitor; just ordering a coffee becomes an obstacle course of ritual humiliation. There are hotels that only accept cash, menus that switch at 2:00pm, and arcane rules governing the availability of cabs and behaviour aboard yachts. Consequently, I know producers who have been attending the festival for decades, but have never dared to travel beyond the Bunker, the unlovely dungeon wherein films are traded. Go five miles along the coast, however, and you'll be welcomed with a generosity of spirit that can melt the most francophobic heart.

Better still, keep driving until you reach Monte Carlo's annual Screen Adaptation festival, to discover how Cannes must have been in the '50s; the four-day event is starry, exclusive and elegantly understated. Here, the black-tie diners are not beset by vulgar paparazzi — Prince Albert wouldn't allow that — and a salon atmosphere actually indulges artists, not tradespeople. Even more shockingly, the price of a coffee near the Casino is about the same as a takeout from Starbucks, and in a principality where the average resident has seven bank accounts, that's something to be savoured. Perhaps it's time the world's more overwrought media events, such as the Cannes Film Festival, rediscover their roots.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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